Ukraine simulation infographic detail

Are Both Kiev and Moscow Fighting the Wrong Wars?

Ukraine simulation infographic

Are both Kiev and Moscow fighting the wrong wars?

Could it be that both Kiev and Moscow are fighting the wrong wars? A crowdsourced simulation Wikistrat recently conducted about the future of Ukraine suggested they might be.

As this infographic shows, Ukraine would actually be better served by cutting away so-called “Novorosssiya” while the Kremlin ought to be working a lot harder to maintain the unity of Ukraine.

This counterintuitive-but-compelling finding emerged from a two-week crowdsourced simulation run by Wikistrat in February and March. Almost seventy analysts from a variety of fields and backgrounds brainstormed potential scenarios for how Ukraine could develop over the next five years. Some concentrated on big-picture issues: Will it be one country, or two or even three? Will it succumb to Russian pressure, or manage to find a place in the European community of nations? Others instead addressed granular points: Could the country’s agricultural or energy industries develop under the current circumstances? Is there a role for private military companies in the conflict?

Across the scenarios, analysts struggled to come up with a plausible solution that offers Ukraine much hope in the five-year timeframe so long as it holds on to the rebellious southeast. Even if it wins on the battlefield, Kiev may then lose the peace, burdened with a war-ravaged region that needs to be rebuilt, and an alienated local population to be reintegrated.

Perhaps Kiev ought to hope it doesn’t win the war at all? The freezing of the conflict would be a devastating blow to the identity of the “new” Ukraine, but it offers perverse advantages.

The rump Ukraine that remains could gain a new cohesion through the shared experience of struggle, while the West — eager to teach Moscow a lesson — would both require and support the often-painful processes of political and economic reform the country so desperately needs.

Russia, by contrast, already suffering a serious economic crisis unlikely to soon resolve itself, would be forced to continue to arm, guard, feed and support its puppet fiefdom. Its interests are actually better served by forcing the rebellious regions back into Ukraine, like a rusty nail to poison the country’s bloodstream. Read More →

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Arseniy Yatsenyuk

Russian and Ukrainian Orthodoxy: Mediators or Meddlers?

In a recent, crowdsourced simulation about the future of Ukraine, Wikistrat analysts pointed out that the Eastern Orthodox Church plays an important role in the ongoing crisis between Russia and Ukraine given the interrelation between the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC-MP) — whose Patriarchate is in Moscow and whose denomination, up until recently, constituted the majority of Orthodox worshippers in Ukraine, having dropped from 19.6 to 17.4 percent of the population between 2013 and 2014.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP), whose followers are concentrated in the middle and western portions of the country where the Ukrainian language and nationalist sentiments are most entrenched, is not recognized by the ROC. A 2014 poll by the Ukrainian think-tank the Razumkov Center noted a rise in the number of Ukrainians identifying with the UOC-KP from 18.3 to 22.4 percent between 2013 and 2014. Patriarch Filaret, leader of the UOC-KP, supports Ukraine’s cause.

Rival churches have aligned themselves along political ideologies. As the symbolic figurehead of the UOC-MP, the Russian Orthodox Church has found itself in an increasingly compromising position as the conflict between Ukraine and Russia has escalated.

For example, on May 9, 2014, Metropolitan Hilarion (chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations) was denied entry into Ukraine, where he was scheduled to present an award to a local bishop. In a gesture of goodwill later that year, Patriarch Kirill (the head of the Russian Orthodox Church) played a significant role in the release of OSCE monitors who were captured by pro-Russian rebels in southeast Ukraine.

Metropolitan Hilarion has expressed a desire for his Church to act as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, but fears that he will not be considered impartial in such a role.

Hilarion has good reason to be doubtful, given the Russian Orthodox Church’s status as both a cultural linchpin and a unifying force for Russians — even those who are not religious. Patriarch Kirill and President Vladimir Putin share a close relationship, with the patriarch supporting the Russian leader’s drive to forge closer ties with former Soviet republics. Putin, all too aware of the Church’s power and the value of its support, has offered the Church special privileges to the detriment of other denominations.

Wikistrat’s analysts argued that throughout 2015 and 2016, Patriarch Kirill’s support for Putin’s action in Ukraine — as well as the growing influence of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia — could anger members of UOC-MP. The UOC-MP’s Primate, Metropolitan Onufriy has already come under fire for not being vociferous enough in his opposition to the Russian Orthodox Church’s posture on the Ukraine conflict.

As 2017 approaches, members of the UOC-MP could become frustrated with Kirill’s failure to use his relationship with Putin to help broker a peace deal, particularly as the crisis in Ukraine becomes a “frozen conflict.” By 2018, the impasse may serve as a catalyst for the UOC-MP to split from the Moscow Patriarchate with the approbation of the Ecumenical Council and key Orthodox Patriarchs such as the Macedonian Orthodox Church. Toward 2020, analysts posited that concrete moves could be made to establish a new Kiev Orthodox Church that, having been purged of its ROC-loyal clergy, is independent of Moscow and formed through an amalgam of existing sects including the UOC-KP.

In this scenario, the union gains popular support despite the potential to cause upheaval among other denominations within the Orthodoxy. As a result, by 2020, Ukraine officially declares an independent Kiev Church as the state religion.

However, the Moscow Patriarchate would still claim leadership over all Eastern Orthodox Christians in the region. This could undermine the social cohesion of Ukraine, which would already be fatigued from years of political conflict in which religion had been associated with a particular brand of Russian or Ukrainian nationalism.

This analysis was written by Wikistrat Contributing Analyst Ainslie Noble and based on one of more than sixty scenarios that were proposed in the “Ukraine in 2020″ Wikistrat simulation.

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Wikistrat Internship Program Accepting Applications

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Are you a young professional working in international relations, or a college student in relevant fields? Then Wikistrat’s Internship Program is a great opportunity for you!

Interning for Wikistrat allows junior geostrategic thinkers to interact with some of the world’s leading analysts in live geopolitical simulations and contribute to the theoretical knowledge base of Wikistrat, all in a unique Web 2.0 environment.

Wikistrat regularly trains interns to become part of the new generation of strategic thinkers. Interns undergo a two-stage internship program, consisting of a two-week training course followed by four months of internship activities. Upon completion of the full internship, qualified candidates will be invited to join Wikistrat as Researchers, an analyst rank which allows them to participate in Wikistrat’s client simulations.

Wikistrat is now accepting applications for the May 2015 Internship program starting May 5 and the July 2015 Internship program starting July 5. Click here to learn more.

The deadlines for applications are April 15 and June 15 respectively, 12 PM U.S. EST. Email your resume and a brief cover letter to Late applications will not be considered.

Confronting Libya’s Turmoil: Four Key Scenarios

Confronting Libya's Turmoil Infographic

Confronting Libya’s Turmoil: Four Scenarios

Although Wikistrat believes the likelihood of another military intervention in Libya is low, a recent crowdsourced simulation on the topic proposed four key scenarios for what intervention — if it does happen — could look like.

The attached infographic shows the four options.

In the first, Egypt leads an alliance of Arab states to fight the ISIS terrorist organization. In the second, NATO joins the effort, largely by providing air support as it did during Operation Unified Protector in 2011.

A third option has the United States leading the intervention. Wikistrat’s analysts said that was only likely to happen if the terrorist threat emanating from Libya becomes significantly worse.

Finally, some analysts suggested that Algeria could lead a diplomatic effort to resolve the standoff between Libya’s two rival governments, allowing them to focus on eradicating ISIS together instead. This was seen as rather beyond Algeria’s current inclinations, however.

None of the four scenarios was considered highly probable, at least not in the short term. Conditions on the ground would have to worsen before Egypt, European countries or the United states might be persuaded to confront Libya’s turmoil — again. Read More →

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Chances of Another Libya Intervention Low

Three and a half years after the uprising that led to the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya remains in turmoil. It has two rival governments, one in Tripoli, another in Tobruk, and a growing Islamist presence in the middle taking advantage of the chaos. Fighters have sworn their allegiance to the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the cities of Derna and Sirte.

Libya map

Libya’s rival governments

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates recently carried out air strikes in support of the internationally-recognized government in Tobruk while Italy signaled a willingness last month to support a UN-mandated mission to stop ISIS. In a crowdsourced speed simulation, Wikistrat’s analysts nevertheless assessed the overall likelihood of another intervention as low. Only if the Islamists conquer more territory and seem to gain the upper hand might a coalition of Arab states decide to confront the crisis. A military role for Western countries is possible, but less likely.

The stakes are highest for Egypt. Like the Arab Gulf countries, it sees ISIS’s growing influence as a danger to stability in the Middle East. The group has declared the governments of these countries as apostates and threatened them with terrorist attacks. For Egypt and the Gulf monarchs, ISIS is a terrorist threat close to home that must be eliminated.

However, if an Egyptian-led coalition goes beyond bombing ISIS targets, it runs the risk of siding with the Tobruk government and General Khalifa Haftar’s army — something not all of the Arab Gulf states would be interested in doing.

Egyptian intervention might arrest ISIS in the short term, but Wikistrat’s analysts said bringing long-term stability to Libya requires the involvement of Western governments that can leverage their influence to also bring about a political solution. Italy, the former colonial power, could play a leading role in such an effort on behalf of the European Union. The bloc’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, is the former Italian foreign minister and Italy’s energy company Eni has an interest in reviving Libyan oil and natural gas production.

Wikistrat’s analyst cautioned, though, that a diplomatic effort would probably only succeed in the medium term, once ISIS has been significantly degraded and neither of the two rival governments believes it can decide the conflict on the battlefield anymore.

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Why Turkey, PKK Seek Rapprochement

Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan called on his followers to lay down their arms in late February in a crucial step toward rapprochement with the Turkish government. Wikistrat asked Dr. Soner Cagaptay what the motivations of both parties are to do a deal.


Turkey’s Plan A on the Kurdish issue is to placate the PKK, an approach solidified in 2012 when Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched official peace talks with the group’s leadership, bringing about a respite from fighting. Maintaining this peace is especially important for Erdoğan’s AKP, which has been running the country since 2002 and faces parliamentary elections in June. If Turkey remains peaceful, the popular AKP will likely soar to another electoral victory. With no other elections until 2019, Erdoğan and the AKP would rule Turkey until the end of the decade.

Peace is a strong incentive for Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK’s founder and ideological leader, who is effectively conducting the PKK’s side of the talks through his lawyers from his solitary-confinement cell on İmralı island, in the Marmara Sea, where he has been jailed since 1999. As indicated by his role in the talks, Öcalan still wields strong influence over the PKK and he well understands that peace would be his get-out-of-jail card. He is therefore expected to continue using his influence to ensure the current calm.

Dr. Soner Cagaptay is a Wikistrat Expert. He has more than ten years of experience in academia and of professional work dealing with Turkey, the Balkans and other international issues. He is also a Senior Fellow and Director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Turkey Research Program.

New Wikistrat Simulation: Greece Exits the Eurozone

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Wikistrat launches a new, week-long simulation today to explore the consequences of a potential Greek exit from the eurozone.

The January 25 election brought the “hard-left” Syriza party to power in Greece. It immediately had to renegotiate the conditions of the country’s bailout. The new government, elected on an anti-austerity platform, vowed to bypass the “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF), demand debt forgiveness and roll back spending cuts. At the same time, neither the government nor Greek voters wanted to leave the euro or the EU.

Germany and Greece’s other eurozone creditors would not accept Syriza’s demands. Rather, they agreed to a four-month extension of the bailout under which Greece is required to continue labor and tax reforms as well as privatizations in exchange for continued financial support. Presumably, there will be a standoff again when the four-month extension runs out.

Neither side won this time, but there was a truce. As in earlier stages of the Greek sovereign debt crisis, Germany’s and the ECB’s firm commitment to cohesion and stability, and their fear of cataclysmic market volatility, trumped the economic rationale for an orderly Greek exit.

What if, in the next few months and year, Greece requires further support and that calculation changes? What would be the effects of a Greek Eurozone exit?

This simulation is designed to find out! Read More →

New Wikistrat Simulation: Confronting Libya’s Turmoil

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Today, Wikistrat launches a 48-hour speed simulation in which analysts are asked to design policy options for Libya’s neighbors, Arab Gulf states, the European Union and the United States to confront the tumultuous situation in the country.

More than three years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) is taking advantage of the political chaos in Libya, stepping up attacks and establishing strongholds there. Recently, ISIS fighters were shown beheading 21 Egyptian Christians on a Libyan beach; the group also claimed responsibility for a bombing that killed at least 35 in the city of Qubba.

Libya has grown increasingly unstable over the last year due to violence among competing militias and rivalry between two separate governments: the internationally-recognized, Tobruk-based government led by Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni, and the Islamist-sympathetic government led by Omar Al-Hassi out of Tripoli.

Reports indicate that ISIS militants have established a base in the city of Derna, where Egypt carried out airstrikes following the execution of the Coptic hostages. Two million Egyptians live in Libya, but many have begun returning home as the situation deteriorates.

Some residents say ISIS is levying taxes and setting up courts in Derna. The group has also seized a university in Sirte, and videos circulate on social media show ISIS troops patrolling the streets there.

The number of ISIS fighters currently in Libya is unclear, but reports indicate that members of local Islamist militias are defecting to ISIS ranks.

The foreign minister of Libya’s internationally recognized government, Mohamed Dayri, told U.S. officials in Washington that his government needs immediate military assistance to deal with the situation. But the U.S. is reluctant to provide aid until a government of national unity is formed.

Meanwhile, Qatar has recalled its ambassador from Egypt to protest its intervention in Libya. The Gulf Cooperation Council, however, has given its full support to Egypt, issuing a statement that said it backed Cairo in “fighting terrorism and protecting its citizens at home and abroad.”

The Qatari government supports the Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) Islamist alliance in Tripoli, while the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have joined Egypt in supporting the recognized government in Tobruk and its main military backer, General Khalifa Haftar.

The current challenge is to combine the efforts of interested countries to prevent ISIS from gaining further control of Libya and ensuring the extremist organization does not spread into other North African states like Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.

Are you interested in participating in simulations like these? Apply for membership to the analytic community here.

Stay tuned to Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter channels for updates and insights from this simulation!

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New Wikistrat Simulation: Ukraine in 2020

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Earlier this week, Wikistrat launched a new crowdsourced simulation to look beyond the immediate political issues affecting Ukraine and consider what the country’s geostrategic position might be in the year 2020.

At present, Ukraine faces a Russian-instigated and -supported insurgency in its southeast, the loss of Crimea, an economy in crisis, and a government divided and often unprepared for rule. An oligarchic elite is seeking to preserve its power and prosperity, radicals are growing impatient with the slow pace of reform, nationalists are advocating a tougher line with the culturally Russian population, the country remains heavily dependent on Russian energy and markets, and optimistic dreams of a rapid shift toward integration with the European Union are fading.

Nevertheless, Russia’s determination to try to forestall any westward drift and the West’s determination to punish Moscow for its meddling underline one basic point: Ukraine matters. Will it be the prize that Moscow manages comprehensively and conclusively to return to its sphere of influence — a rather more useful and reliable neighbor than Belarus — or will it instead grow closer to the West, bringing the prospect of expanding “Europe” up to the Ural watershed closer? Might it, as Moscow fears, ever become a NATO state on its southern flank? Or will it instead find some place between Russia and Europe, friend of both, client of neither?

In this context, the question is not only what Ukraine can do to shape its future over the next five years — years which will inevitably be difficult — but also what options external actors have to influence the country’s evolving relationships.

These are the issues Wikistrat’s analysts will be exploring over the next two weeks. Read More →

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Ask a Senior Analyst — David Isenberg

Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter followers recently engaged in a 24-hour exclusive Q&A session with one of Wikistrat’s Senior Analysts, David Isenberg. Questions and Mr. Isenberg’s answers are transcribed below.

David Isenberg

David Isenberg is the author of Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq. He blogs at the Isenberg Institute of Strategic Satire. He wrote the “Dogs of War” weekly column for UPI from 2008 to 2009. During 2009 he ran the Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers project at the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo. He also worked for the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR). He is a U.S. Navy veteran.

Matt R. Batten-Carew: What is your opinion on the potential use of private military contractors as peacekeeping forces by the United Nations? Given a comprehensive code of conduct, clear rules of engagement, and adequate oversight, could these private actors play a role in future peacekeeping operations?

Answer: You have a couple of questions here: Can contractors play a role in peacekeeping operations? And can contractors serve as peacekeeping troops?

In regard to the former question, contractors are already playing a significant role in terms of proving logistics for peacekeeping operations. In regard to the latter question, it is very important to keep in mind the distinction between peacekeeping and peace enforcement. The first, while dangerous, is far less demanding than the second. In my opinion, contractors can conceivably play a role as peacekeeping troops, albeit more as combat support or combat service support roles.

At this point contractors are not likely to replace sizeable formations of state forces, especially not in peace enforcement operations. People like Blackwater co-founder Erik Prince claim that contractors could be used to fight ISIS. That is outlandish. What companies like Blackwater did in Iraq was protective security, not combat.

What private military companies can do is supply force multipliers, notably in the area of training or logistics. Read More →